Bucs Head to Japan With A Few Surprises

As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers head to Japan to face the New York Jets in the American Bowl, a couple players have caught the eye of the Bucs coaching staff, and a few players are lining up in positions you may not be used to seeing them in.

New Bucs quarterback Chris Simms looked a little shaky as training camp got under way, but by the end of the week, he had raised a few eyebrows. As wide receiver Keenan McCardell puts it, when Simms makes a mistake, "he realizes the mistake that he made and never makes the mistake again."

Normally, you expect certain players to be a lock to make the team. The Bucs brought in kicker Ralf Kleinmann, three-time World Bowl champion and fourth on NFL Europe's all-time scoring list, to give Martin Gramatica a little competition. But, don't expect Gramatica to give up his job without a fight. On the other hand, Bucs punter Tom Tupa may have a little more competition. Rookie punter Andy Groom from Ohio State has impressed the Bucs coaching staff. "We're going to put him a lot of situations on the practice field and in the preseason games and try to see exactly where he is as a situational punter," said coach Gruden. Groom averaged 45 yards per punt last season (including a 74 yarder), with 25% inside the 20-yardline.

Bucs big guys Warren Sapp and Anthony McFarland may want to ask for double pay when negotiating their contracts at the end of the year. Both defensive ends lined up at tight end during a goal line drill, blocking for fullback Mike Alstott who scored on a one-yard run. "Both Anthony and Warren played in our goal line attack and we were productive," said Gruden. "We knocked it in for a touchdown. We're going to continue to work at that, it doesn't mean it's going to become a reality."

Other players lining up at unfamiliar positions include cornerback Ronde Barber. Barber, who may be out up to ten days with a knee injury, may be used as a running back in certain game situations. This is the first time since sharing the backfield with twin brother Tiki in high school that Ronde has been on the offensive side of the ball. "It'll be fun," said Barber. " Fun to toy with and see how fierce we can really come with it."

Rookie wide receiver Fabian Davis has caught the eye of the Bucs coaching staff. Davis, a 5-11, 180 pound free agent out of Wake Forest, has a winning attitude and should get lots of time in preseason to show what he's made of. However, if Davis does not make the squad, it may take a miracle for him to clear waivers and allow the Bucs to sign him to the practice squad.

Don't forget to set your alarm clocks for Saturday morning. The Bucs face the Jets in Tokyo at 5AM (Eastern Time) on ESPN2. You can wait until 8PM and watch the game on ESPN, but by then, you'll already know who won.

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